Rangers expected to be finalist for Zito

Rangers expected to be finalist for Zito

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Agent Scott Boras said he is in the process of paring down the number of teams that Barry Zito will consider.

All indications are the Rangers will be there right until the end.

"They have been communicative, in-depth and thorough," Boras said Wednesday evening at the Winter Meetings. "We've seen a lot of them. They are hard workers and thorough."

A resolution is not expected anytime soon. Boras met with general manager Jon Daniels on Tuesday night, but owner Tom Hicks will also get involved at some point before the process is over.

The Rangers have not made a formal offer. But they understand what Boras is looking for and they have not yet run away.

"We're still talking," Daniels said. "It's like I've said before, we'll place an evaluation on any player on where we want to go. If we can get something done in those parameters, we will."

Zito continues to be the Rangers' primary focus as far as their starting rotation but it's a competitive situation. The Chicago Cubs dropped out of the race when they reached an agreement with Ted Lilly, but that could increase the Yankees' interest. They went strong after Lilly.

The Seattle Mariners are expected to be contenders as well, especially after missing out on Jason Schmidt, who is said to be heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three years and $47 million.

The Rangers were never serious bidders on Schmidt. They had early interest in Lilly but did not meet with his agent here. They had some interest in Miguel Batista but have not talked with his agent at the Winter Meetings. They have not jumped into the pursuit of Gil Meche and Jeff Suppan.

Trade talks have not made much progress. They talked to the Atlanta Braves about Horacio Ramirez, but he appears headed to Seattle. They have talked to the Phillies about Jon Lieber, and they know the Baltimore Orioles want to move Rodrigo Lopez. They don't have a match with the Colorado Rockies for Jason Jennings.

They spent some time on Tuesday talking to agent Gregg Clifton about Mark Mulder, the 29-year-old left-hander who was 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA in 17 starts for the Cardinals last year before undergoing shoulder surgery.

It could be six weeks to three months into next season before Mulder is back on the mound, but the Rangers have checked the medical reports and still have strong interest. But the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Mets and Orioles, among others, are interested.

"I've always said that with this club, that I'd like to add young veteran starting pitchers that have experience but age-wise are similar to the core of this team," Daniels said.

The Rangers were hoping to add two veteran starting pitchers. Daniels said he would be satisfied if the two were Mulder and Vicente Padilla, who has already re-signed and underwent his physical in Arlington on Wednesday.

What that means is the Rangers will pursue Zito but will not bid excessively, and it's clear they have no interest in going anywhere near the $100 million price tag that's been rumored. A total package of around $80 million could be more palatable to the Rangers and their budget.

"Unless we've done something else between now and then, we'll stay in it to the end," Daniels said. "There's no secret that we like Barry. I'd like to have him. [Manager] Ron [Washington] would like to have him. We also like our own guys, and we like the possibility of acquiring somebody at a later time.

"Our first choice is to have Barry, but if it doesn't work out, we're very comfortable."

Center field is the Rangers' other area of focus here in Florida, but trade talks have not been productive. They have talked to agent Craig Landis about a potential two-year deal with Jay Payton, but did not have any more discussions with agent Casey Close about Kenny Lofton.

The Rangers could end up signing both, but it appears right now they are closer to doing something with Payton. Talks with the Dodgers about Jason Repko did not go anywhere.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.